SCHOOL BOARD Q&A: Helen Wade discusses student achievement, non-traditional learning environments

Friday, March 21, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:33 a.m. CDT, Friday, March 21, 2014

Editor's note: This is the fourth of four articles in which Columbia School Board candidates answer questions about their goals if elected and issues facing the district. Paul Cushing's responses were published online Tuesday, Jonathan Sessions' responses were published online Wednesday, and Joseph Toepke's responses were published online Thursday. Helen Wade's responses are published below.

COLUMBIA — Helen Wade is one of four candidates for three positions on the Columbia School Board. The general municipal election will be held April 8.

Wade is a family lawyer for Harper, Evans, Wade & Netemeyer law office. She received her bachelor's degree from Columbia College and graduated from MU Law School. She is seeking reelection after a three-year term on the board.

The Missourian asked each candidate several questions about their goals if elected and about issues the district faces. Their responses were collected via email.

What experiences or characteristics would serve you well as a board member?

First, over the last three years, I have gained a deep appreciation of the significant impacts of the decisions that the school board makes upon our students and their families. That appreciation emphasizes the need for careful consideration and examination of the issues presented for decision to ensure that the results truly serve our students' best interests.

Second, in my professional life, I work with difficult and often very challenging issues affecting children and their families. That work, and the attendant multifaceted and analytical approach that the practice of law demands, has helped me to evaluate the issues that have arisen.

Third, my work on the school board is personal to me. My daughter attends Columbia Public Schools, and I believe her future is being shaped right now by our district and the decisions that our board makes concerning education for all of our students.

Finally, I truly believe that a strong public school district is one of the most important assets our community can cultivate.

What are your short-term goals if elected?

I want to continue to manage the district's funds in a careful, student-centered manner while balancing the ever changing revenue projections we receive. Remaining good stewards of our taxpayer's funds is the cornerstone of providing a second-to-none education for all of our students.

What are your long-term goals if elected?

I plan to ask our administration to continue to critically evaluate the curriculum and assessments in place for our students. Adoption of the Common Core (State) Standards along with MSIP 5 (Missouri School Improvement Program) will be a challenge of our district, and we are prepared to meet it.

However, we continue to struggle with evidence that the achievement gap remains a serious issue within our district. To address this, I want to see further emphasis placed upon early childhood education and the expansion of support systems and structures for our students like AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination).

I am very interested in creative approaches to educating our students that are supported by evidence that those approaches positively impact student achievement. Right now, we are pursuing the installation of a nature school in partnership with DNR (Missouri Department of Natural Resources). I would like to see this project succeed as I believe that it will provide a fantastic opportunity for our students to learn in a different environment.

Further, I am interested in the addition of a dual language focused school. I have been listening to the discussion surrounding this possibility and would like to pursue this if our financial position is such that we can prudently allocate district resources to this goal.

The district's 10-year Facility and Bond Plan is to build five schools to address overcrowding and community growth. At the same time, a district goal has been to get rid of trailer classrooms by 2020. What do you think the district should do to address overcrowding in the short term? What about in the long term?

The only way to truly address growth is to plan for the addition of space for our students. We have to balance this with the need to provide our students with consistency and continuity in their educational environment.

The district has also started discussions on the possibility of establishing a community school that would partner a new school with local agencies to provide students in at-risk situations access to academic, health and social development resources. Also in the works is the development of a nature-based school that would be located at Rock Bridge State Park. What do you think of alternative schools such as a community school and the nature-based school?

I am supportive of both initiatives. I believe that providing our students with non-traditional learning environments can help us as a district address the achievement gap, positively impact student achievement, and provide our community with additional resources to benefit our students and their families.

The district is asking voters to approve a 4-cent increase to the debt service portion of the property tax levy and a $50 million bond issue. The debt service levy increase would fund expenses such as construction, building improvements and technology. The $50 million bond issue is the third of six school bond issues planned through 2020. The funds would be used to build new schools and improve existing buildings. Do you support these ballot proposals and why?

Yes. We are asking the voters to approve the bond issue because our community is growing in leaps and bounds and that growth demands the addition of appropriate facilities for our students. We also must address the improvement and maintenance of our existing facilities to ensure that they continue to be viable into the future. Finally, we need to continue to improve our technology infrastructure so that we are able to provide our students with the skills necessary to compete successfully in our ever-changing economy.

Is there a particular issue in the district that hasn't been addressed? If so, what is it and why do you care about it?

We are doing a very good job of exploring ways to provide our students with a comprehensive education. I would like to see the expansion of our support systems for students as we promote our initiatives to increase enrollment in honors and AP (Advanced Placement) courses. I know that the data demands a re-evaluation of our interventions and strategies to properly promote success among our most fragile students. We are working on this constantly, but these efforts are essential to our primary mission as a district: to provide our students with the best possible education and preparation for success.

Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.

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